Todd Michael receives $2 million to build a genome repository for the cassava plant

Research Professor Todd Michael received nearly $2 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to sequence the genomes of multiple lineages of the cassava plant, the large starchy root vegetable also known as yuca root that is consumed in more than 80 countries around the world. A better understanding of cassava genetics will help researchers and plant breeders develop more productive disease- and drought-resistant plants for the future.

Janelle Ayres joins Cancer Grand Challenges team tackling cancer cachexia

An international team of researchers, including Professor Janelle Ayres, Salk Institute Legacy Chair, was selected to receive a $25 million Cancer Grand Challenges award to tackle the challenge of cancer cachexia, a debilitating wasting condition that often leads to a poor quality of life for people in the later stages of cancer. Known as the Cancer Cachexia Action Network (CANCAN), the team is co-funded by Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. The team hopes to build a deep understanding of what causes cachexia and develop new treatments to intervene.

Joseph Swift receives Australia to USA Graduate Education Scholarship

Joseph Swift, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Joseph Ecker’s lab, received a scholarship from the American Australian Association. As a plant biologist, Swift is driven to conduct research that can help mitigate the effects of climate change. Both Australia and the United States are facing drier futures. To help adapt agriculture, he will study how plants respond to water at the molecular level.

Wen Mai Wong named Damon Runyon Fellow

Wen Mai Wong, a postdoctoral fellow in Associate Professor Sreekanth Chalasani’s lab, was named one of 16 new Damon Runyon Fellows by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation. The prestigious, four-year fellowship encourages the nation’s most promising young scientists to pursue careers in cancer research by providing them with independent funding. Wong is using ultrasound to examine specific neurons and their impact on animal behavior and disease physiology, including the tumor microenvironment.

Nuttida Rungratsameetaweemana awarded Edwards-Yeckel Postdoc Professional Development Award

Nuttida Rungratsameetaweemana, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Terrence Sejnowski’s lab, was awarded the inaugural Edwards-Yeckel Postdoc Professional Development Award. Made possible by a generous gift from the Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation, the award is intended to inspire applicants to explore new avenues of investigation and professional growth.

Inaugural Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind postdoctoral scholars selected

The Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind (KIBM) launched a program to provide financial support and networking opportunities for outstanding postdoctoral scholars at the Salk Institute and UC San Diego. Salk’s inaugural KIBM Postdoctoral Scholars are Donovan Ventimiglia (Associate Professor Kenta Asahina’s lab), Jeffrey Jones (Professor Rusty Gage’s lab), and Nuttida Rungratsameetaweemana (Professor Terrence Sejnowski’s lab). Each scholar was awarded $50,000 for 12 months.

Sara Sameni receives 2022 Berman-Topper Family HD Career Development Fellowship

Sara Sameni, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Terrence Sejnowski’s lab, will receive up to $80,000 per year for three years from the Huntington’s Disease Society of America. This prestigious fellowship, made possible in part by the Berman and Topper families, supports young scientists and clinicians who desire to make the study of Huntington’s disease part of their long-term career plan. The fellowship will allow Sameni to create personalized models to predict disease course and treatment response in people with Huntington’s disease.

Austin Coley awarded Transition to Independence Fellowship

Austin Coley, a postdoctoral fellow in Professor Kay Tye’s lab, will receive $495,000 over three years from the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain to help him become an independent investigator. The fellowship facilitates the transition to research independence of outstanding neuroscientists from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Christina Towers recognized for her scientific achievements and dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion

Assistant Professor Christina Towers uses a combination of DNA-editing techniques, light-based genetic manipulation (optogenetics), three-dimensional miniature organs (organoids), and detailed imaging to uncover how cancer cells recycle both their own nutrients and the power-generating structures called mitochondria to survive. Her goal is to uncover novel fundamental biology that will lead to new targeted cancer therapies that can block the cancer cell recycling pathways that allow these cells to survive.

For her accomplishments, Towers received several notable awards this year, including a $1.15 million Science Diversity Leadership Award from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in partnership with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The award recognizes outstanding early- to mid-career researchers who have made significant research contributions to the biomedical sciences, show promise for continuing scientific achievement, and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their scientific fields.

She was also awarded the $300,000 Young Investigator Award through Black in Cancer, an organization that aims to strengthen the network between Black people in the cancer space while highlighting Black excellence in cancer research and medicine in partnership with the Emerald Foundation, Inc.

Additionally, Towers is among six early-career scientists named Pew-Stewart Scholars. Each will receive $300,000 from the Alexander and Margaret Stewart Trust over the next four years to support research focused on a better understanding of the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.

She was also selected as one of nine scientists who will join the Keystone Symposia’s 2022 Class of Fellows, a group of outstanding biological and biomedical researchers.

Pallav Kosuri named Beckman Young Investigator

Assistant Professor Pallav Kosuri was named a Beckman Young Investigator. The Beckman Foundation’s mission is to support the most promising young faculty members in the early stages of their academic careers in the chemical and life sciences. The award fosters the invention of methods, instruments, and materials that will open new avenues of research. This year’s award offers $600,000 in funding over four years.

Geoffrey Wahl receives 2022 Susan G. Komen Brinker Award

Professor Geoffrey Wahl, who holds the Daniel and Martina Lewis Chair, was awarded the 2022 Susan G. Komen Brinker Award, which recognizes leading scientists who have made significant advances in breast cancer research and medicine. Wahl was honored for his significant contributions to the field of cancer genetics, including the mechanisms of drug resistance and genome stability.

Daniel Hollern awarded Susan G. Komen grant

With the new three-year, $450,000 Susan G. Komen grant, Assistant Professor Daniel Hollern and team will study immune cells called B cells and how they interact with and recognize metastasized breast cancer cells. They will also test new promising and existing treatments that activate B cell responses against breast cancers to see if they can help patients living with breast cancer metastasis.

Innovation and Collaboration Grants announced

Salk’s Innovation Grants program, launched in 2006 from the forward-thinking minds of then Board Chair Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan, is designed to fund out-of-the-box ideas that hold significant promise but may not yet have the track record to attract attention from more traditional funding sources.

The Jacobs’ commitment of $8 million since the start of the Innovation Grants Program helped Salk secure additional philanthropic contributions from the Rose Hills Foundation, James Melcher and April Benasich, Fondation Ipsen, and Elizabeth Keadle. Since then, Salk researchers have gone on to leverage early results from Innovation Grant-funded research to access more substantial investments from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) BRAIN Initiative, the Keck Foundation, and other prominent grant-makers.

Awarded semiannually by peer review, Salk’s Innovation Grants program is critical to catalyzing emerging science with the power to redefine the future. At right are this year’s awardees.

2022 Collaboration Grant

Professors Janelle Ayres, Joseph Noel, and Christian Metallo will collaborate to determine if asymptomatic and symptomatic infected animals emit different chemicals—signals that help group mates respond to the infection. The methods they develop may help diagnose community spread of infectious diseases and develop new treatments based on emitted chemicals.

2022 Innovation Grants

Professor Joanne Chory, Associate Professor Sreekanth Chalasani, and Staff Scientist Carl Procko will investigate the sensory proteins of plants to see if they are sensitive to high-frequency sound waves. The work could help scientists modify how plants behave in the presence of other plants and contribute to the growing body of research on “sonogenetics,” a method Chalasani developed for noninvasively controlling cells with sound waves. Their findings could also lead to new ways to treat conditions like chronic pain, epilepsy, and PTSD.

Professor Tony Hunter and team generated the first antibodies recognizing phosphorylated histidine (pHis), a protein modification that may play a role in cancer. Now, they will engineer the antibodies to bind even better to pHis proteins and use them to probe pHis function in health and disease.

Assistant Professor Sung Han will explore how single neurons orchestrate the release of different transmitters—glutamate versus neuropeptides, for example. With this idea, he and his lab are currently investigating the neuronal coding logic of transmitter co-transmission to encode various types of information. These studies will transform the field’s current understanding of neuronal communication.

The ease with which researchers can track body parts in motion, such as hands and feet, has improved in recent years due to advances in machine learning and computer vision. However, these methods still require researchers to manually label each body part, which is time-consuming and increasingly impractical as the number of labels on the body grows. Associate Professor Eiman Azim is now developing automated approaches to simultaneously track hundreds to thousands of points on the body. These methods will provide better ways to examine how brains control movement and insights into how neurodegenerative disease and injury disrupt behavior.

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